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Rediscover: Beach Fossils: Beach Fossils

Among a platoon of other lo-fi indie releases toward the end of the 2000s, it was easy for Beach Fossils’ self-titled debut to get lost in the weeds. Thanks to groundbreaking genre artists like Beach House, reverb soon became a cliché rather than a tool, and at the time, everyone with a make-shift studio was getting in on it. But it’s important to distinguish the best a genre has to offer from the worst, instead of throwing the baby out with the bathwater. And Dustin Payseur’s one-man show proves that the actual potential of claustrophobic and dreamy indie pop is much higher than people inherently think.

From the first jangly bass line to the final waves of serenity, Beach Fossils is a MasterClass on how to succeed with limited resources and experience. At face value, many of the melodies and bass lines aren’t anything special, but it’s the placement and production that makes each track shine. Relying heavily on loops, the album opener “Sometimes” layers each few-note sample individually until a cohesive and catchy pop melody suddenly emerges from below. “Lazy Day” levitates on top of a multitude of repetitive guitar sections, but when pieced together with Payseur’s fuzzy, distorted vocals, the instrumental sheds any dullness for added intensity.

What’s important to note is how limited Payseur’s usage of reverb actually is. Though utilized in every track, Beach Fossils is less about the reverb itself, and more about its juxtaposition with lively instrumentation and moments of tranquility. Most tracks begin with crisp acoustic chords as a moment of clarity, before Payseur ushers in the cluttered sonic mess himself. The lush and bright “Vacation” pairs Payseur’s hushed, lo-fi voice with adorable guitars that play off of his melancholic undertones incredibly well.

Additional nature-filled moments relieve the album of its one-room feel, from “Golden Age’s” bird-chirping entrance, to the calming waves of outro, “Gathering.” These much-needed breaths of fresh air act as a reset button, erasing any potential mundanity from the equation. And for “Gathering,” Payseur’s distant, euphoric hums are unlike anything else on the record. They’re distant, hiding behind the highlighted bass riff as if he’s finally found the outside world. It’s moments like this that highlight Payseur’s genius decision making. Rather than rely on insane technical skill, the production subtleties on this record are a result of simple but effective pauses from the action.

If there’s one weakness of the record, it’s certainly on the lyrical end. Payseur’s unflinching, straightforward approach includes his storytelling. Often void of clever metaphors or highlight moments, he opts for the fairly literal expression of his experiences. In these cases, the one or two-word song titles are just about all you need to know what’s going on. “Lazy Day” and “Daydream” illustrate the simple language fairly well—“Lazy today/ Lazy tonight/ And later on,” “Daydream the days up.” Certain notable moments on the record once again play off of this simplicity to add a level of relatability, “And not a day goes by/ Or an hour without/ Times I can’t remember/ What I’m thinking about,” but the content of Payseur’s vocals takes a backseat in favor of its effectiveness as an instrument.

Unlike others, it’s clear Dustin Payseur’s attraction to reverb was much less about the state of the genre, and more about what he could do with it. Toeing the line between 2010’s dreamy indie pop and early 90’s shoegaze, Beach Fossils is stacked with moments of sonic genius that defy genre expectations, and it’s all thanks to Payseur’s vision. By now, Beach Fossils have shed their lo-fi label, thanks to recent projects like Somersault, but considering how successful they once were in those conditions, they’re welcome to make a return.

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